SHRUM, Gordon

Author Tags: Architecture

Gordon Merritt Shrum was one of the main builders of modern British Columbia, a "management superstar". He oversaw the construction of Simon Fraser University, the Peace River Dam, Robson Square Law Courts and the Canada Place convention centre. He was also the first chancellor of Simon Fraser University, from 1965 to 1968, and the first chairman of the B.C. Hydro and Power Authority for W.A.C. Bennett's Social Credit government.

It's a much lesser-known fact that Shrum also deserves recognition for recruiting two Nobel Prize winners to UBC. In 1952, Shrum went to England and invited two up-and-coming scientific researchers Har Gobind Khorana and Michael Smith to work in Vancouver. Both men came from relatively poor backgrounds, in India and Lancashire respectively. "I had no luck in obtaining my desire of a fellowship on the west coast of the United States," Smith once recalled, "but I heard, in the summer of 1956, that a young scientist in Vancouver, Canada, Gobind Khorana, might have a fellowship to work on the synthesis of biologically important organo-phosphates. While I knew this kind of chemistry was much more difficult than the cyclohexane stereochemistry in which I was trained, I wrote to him and was awarded a fellowship after an interview in London with the Director of the British Columbia Research Council, Dr. G.M. Shrum." At UBC, Khorana became one of Michael Smith's most significant mentors but he left British Columbia in 1960 to work in Wisconsin. Smith followed him, but returned to UBC. In 1968 Khorana shared his Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Americans Robert W. Holley and Marshall W. Nirenberg "for their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis". Michael Smith shared a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1993.

Shrum was born on June 14, 1896 in Smithville, Ontario. He fought in World War I at Vimy Ridge and received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Toronto in 1923. He was one of the inaugural teachers at UBC when the university was relocated to its Point Grey campus in 1925. According to UBC Archives, "He headed the Department of Physics from 1937 to 1961; played a major role during World War II as officer in charge of the COTC; served as Director of Extension from 1937 to 1953, during which the University expanded its services throughout the Province; he was Director of Housing in the most critical period of growth in the University's history; and his academic career culminated with his responsibilities as Dean of Graduate Studies from 1957 to 1961. Dr. Shrum also served, with distinction, on the Senate of the University from 1957 to 1961. He was awarded an Honorary D.Sc. degree from U.B.C. in 1961." As the first chancellor of SFU, Shrum openly opposed tenure for professor and, at age 74, fought with a student protestor who was later charged with assault. The 'Shrum Bowl' is the name given to an annual football game between Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.

Gordon Shrum died on June 20, 1985, having overseen the completion of his final megaproject, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre.


Gordon Shrum: An Autobiography with Peter Stursberg (UBC Press, 1986), edited by Clive Cocking ($40.00 ISBN: 0774802308)

[LITHIS / BCBW 2003] "Science" "Architecture"